By Meg Gilbert and Michael Nichols
FST’s challenging Stage III series returns with a sizzling season of edgy new plays that push the boundaries of theatrical content and form. This year’s lineup tackles the pressing, timely issues of morality, hate, and celebrity, and oddly enough both begins and ends in the setting of a basement. Buckle your seatbelts as we venture into a seemingly innocent Christian puppetry club, a chilling jail cell in Toronto, and finally land in the basement of a Hollywood megastar that is filled with both treasures and secrets.
We all have demons inside of us. Sometimes, when they are buried very, very deep down, and the pressure becomes too much, they manifest in strange forms. For a teenage Jason, his inner demon is an evil sock puppet named Tyrone, who threatens to broadcast the vulnerable inner truths of all in his path.
Kicking off our Stage III Season, Hand to God by Robert Askins is a roller-coaster of a comedy set in the tiny, conservative town of Cypress, Texas. When Jason’s mother recruits him to join her Christian Puppet Ministry, Jason finds a new outlet for his burgeoning creativity. But things veer off course as Jason’s handmade hand puppet, Tyrone, develops a mind (and a mouth) of its own. Unlike his shy, inquisitive owner, Tyrone is foulmouthed, funny, and downright dangerous, quickly jeopardizing Jason’s relationship with everyone around him – the girl next door, the town bully, and even his own mother.
Called “as touching as it is screamingly funny” by Variety, Hand to God took Off-Broadway by storm in 2011, moving to Broadway in 2015 where it received five Tony Award nominations, including Best Play. “This is not academic,” said playwright Robert Askins of Hand to God. “This is visceral, and that’s exciting. It’s sacred.”
“Sacred” is an interesting word to describe a brash, irreverent comedy such as Hand to God. But for this playwright, the source material hits close to home. Emerging from Askin’s own complex relationship with religion, at its core, Hand to God examines the fragility of faith, grief, and human connection, and whether we are ever really allowed to say “the devil made me do it.”
The second show of our Stage III Season asks similar questions. Called “bracingly intelligent” by the Boston Globe, David Gow’s Cherry Docs is an unflinching investigation into our human capacity for hate and forgiveness. Cherry Docs invites audiences to walk a mile in a very distinct pair of shoes: the steel-toed, blood-splattered cherry colored boots of a Neo-Nazi skinhead who is on trial for stomping a Jewish man to death.
Incarcerated and awaiting his court date, the accused, Mike Downey, meets Danny Dunkelman, his legally appointed lawyer and a devout Jew. As Dunkelman attempts to pull a shred of empathy or compassion from the hard young man, he battles between his own sense of personal morality and his ethical responsibility to see the case to completion. As the two work together to build Mike’s legal defense, a series of gripping encounters unfold altering both client and counsel forever.
Danny and Mike are not the only unlikely characters to collide in this year’s Stage III Series. Rounding out the season, we retreat back into the basement with struggling actor Alex More and his very unusual boss, a celebrated megastar, in Buyer & Cellar. Short on auditions, Alex accepts a job working in this celebrity’s Malibu basement, caring for Her prized possessions with hopes it may open up a door for his acting career. One day, the Lady Herself comes downstairs to play. It feels like a real bonding moment in the basement, but Alex begins to question if this fairy tale relationship will ever make it upstairs.
One actor brings this quirky comedy to life, taking on the characters of Alex, his agent Sharon, his boyfriend, his boss Herself, and others. Full of “delicious wit” (The New York Times), Buyer & Cellar gives us a delectable peek under the veil of fame and into the oddest of jobs.
From the secret shadows lurking in a Texas church basement, to the cold, dark echoes of a Toronto jail cell, to an ever-intriguing glimpse into the cellar of a real life Malibu Barbie, this season’s Stage III series is sure to make you throw back your head in laughter, probe your soul on matters of hatred and redemption, and just maybe a certain loudmouth puppet will challenge you to question your own inner truth.
For information and tickets, click here or call 941.366.9000.